- Convulsing Bodies: Religion & Resistance in Foucault by Mark D. Jordan
“When it comes to Foucault, I am that young woman”: a funny sentence, coming from a man (3). The woman to which Mark D. Jordan is referring is Miss Hurter, a [End Page 534] character in Henry James’ “The Death of the Lion.” Clinging to an autographed book, Hurter hopes to catch a glimpse of her favorite celebrity-author, Neil Paraday. During her expedition, however, Hurter meets a fellow fan who changes her mind. A true fan, it is said, would refuse to meet their beloved author, so as not to interrupt, interfere, or hinder the cherished writing. Sure enough, when Paraday dies, his legacy lies in the hands of these two fans, distant admirers who cherish not the celebrity, but the text itself. “Some scholars,” Jordan writes in the introduction to Convulsing Bodies: Religion & Resistance in Foucault, “like some fans, end by substituting relics of a fetishized life for the work” (2). When it comes to Foucault, a substitution of this sort is substantial; one cannot read and write critically today without being indebted to his work.
No doubt, though, browsing through a collection of relics from Foucault’s life would be entertaining—essay markings from Althusser, heated letters to and from Deleuze and Derrida, souvenirs from Iran, a few turtlenecks, a cowboy hat (In 1983, Foucault’s Berkeley students gave him a cowboy hat, which resulted in a humorous photograph)—but Convulsing Bodies is not that collection. “I have put down my autograph book,” Jordan claims, “My pleasure in Foucault’s body comes from reading what it wrote. I am lured not by his bodily life but by whatever lured him to write endlessly about the bodily production of our words for bodies” (3). Unlike Miss Hurder, here, Jordan does not choose the narrow path of the text itself over the easy path of admiring the idiosyncrasies of the author’s embodied life. Rather, Jordan recognizes writing and reading as embodied practices, practices that produce meaning through traces left behind by bodies. Consequently, Jordan presents us with what he calls, quite intimately for Stanford University Press, “my Foucault reading diary” (11).
Your reaction to this label may reveal your reaction to the rest of the book. Though Jordan distinguishes his work from the relic collecting of fanboys, he leaves it to be rejected on other grounds. Amidst talk of the post-human and the post-secular, when the sacred and biopower are both widely discussed concepts, publishing a diary on religion and resistance in Foucault’s oeuvre is both timely and dangerous. Readership is present, but so is contention. Foreseeing backlash, Jordan quickly lays his cards on the table: “This is not a comprehensive or systematic survey of the development of Foucault’s ideas on religion. I wish only to stand in front of a selection of Foucault’s texts, pointing here and there in admiration” (10-11). Accordingly, though “religion” is in the subtitle, Jordan does not query Derrida, Žižek, Badiou, or Agamben, and though “resistance” is also there, Jordan does not bother to build upon the widespread discourse, especially after the influence of Hardt and Negri, of biopolitical resistance. For this reason, Jordan’s book is unique and refreshing. Jordan’s Foucault is, like Miss Hurder’s Paraday, an enthralling author, less academic than he is poetic. As Jordan puts it, he is interested in Foucault’s “works, not theses or theories,” and through Jordan’s careful explications, Foucault’s works—both writings and lectures—become lively theatrical performances, as literary as they are philosophical, historical, or sociological (10).
Take, for example, the famous introductions to Discipline and Punish and Birth of the Clinic. For Jordan, the formal relation between these opening scenes demonstrates what Foucault views as the centrality of religion within modernity. While Discipline moves from the gruesome description of Damiens the regicide’s dismemberment to the analytic description of a rehabilitation system, Birth moves from a deft sentence about space, language, death, and the gaze—a sentence that could describe the disciplinary power...